Raising, releasing monarch butterflies a 'spiritual exercise' for Ottawa woman
Ottawa's April Douglas has rescued and hand-raised 100 monarch butterflies
In the backyard of her Ottawa home, April Douglas watches as a monarch butterfly gently rises from her finger.
"Look at how they float," she says. "Aren't they beautiful?"
Douglas is no stranger to monarch butterflies. Over the last three years, she's carefully raised more than 100 of them from eggs, to larva, to caterpillars, to pupa, to eventually fully-grown butterflies, ready to depart her finger for the wide open world.
"Any friend or family member I tell about it, they think I'm a little bit off the wall," she says with a laugh. "But I just adore them."
Monarch butterflies are known for their stunning colouring, their massive annual migrations, and their endangered status.
Climate change, deforestation and pesticide use can affect the species of concern along their 5,000-kilometre migratory route from Mexico.
The monarch butterfly can also serve up as a tasty prey for a myriad of garden insects ranging from spiders to aphids to flies and wasps.
That's one reason why, when Douglas and her mother spotted a few black and orange caterpillars on a rainy spring day in 2018, she decided to take them under her wing.
"There was a severe storm coming that evening, and I thought they might get hammered by torrential rain," she said. "So I sort of went with the instincts."
With a snack of milkweed, she set them up in a makeshift terrarium in her kitchen.
"I sat down in front of them at the table for about four or five hours straight, and I just watched them," she said. "I was hooked."
Busy morning with lots of new babies 🤗🦋 <a href="https://t.co/DUikhM1vvF">pic.twitter.com/DUikhM1vvF</a>—@seaglassheart
17-day love affair
Since that day, Douglas has rescued dozens of soon-to-be butterflies from the elements. The process is always the same.
After munching on milkweed, the caterpillars begin to climb toward the top of their enclosure. For the next 12 hours, they weave a fine silk that will be their safety thread.
Then "all of sudden," they let go, hanging by their back two legs alone.
"That scared me, cause I thought, 'Oh no, it's hurt.' But that's what they do," Douglas said.
They'll stay like that for as long as 15 hours.
"They change colour, and you can see they're really working at getting that last 'suit' off, before they turn into a chrysalis," she said.
Then it's a long wait for the butterfly to emerge.
WATCH | One of Douglas' butterflies emerges from its chrysalis:
But when it finally happens, Douglas says, it's still not the end of the story.
"They have to hang for several hours and pump all the fluid that they have in their abdomen through their veins," she said.
"You invest about 17 days of your life raising them, from start to finish, and it's joyful."
Douglas describes the full process as "a very spiritual experience."
Anyone who wants to give it a try, she says, need only look for the tiny white dots on the underside of milkweed leaves that are the telltale marks of monarch eggs.
"I'd really recommend it for anybody to try," she said.
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